By Andria Kades
AGRICULTURE Minister Nicos Kouyialis has announced measures worth €35 million aimed at supporting sheep and goat farmers for the next three years following Cyprus’ official application to register halloumi/hellim as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
The measures involve improving productivity, increasing livestock, increasing the amount of goat and sheep milk and a series of horizontal measures such as adopting a farmers’ registry, upgrading the sheep and goat registration system and improving the water balance with the use of recycled water in agriculture.
A €10m investment will go towards creating new sheep and goat breeding farms while modernising existing ones as part of the rural development 2014-2020 programme, €5m to fund installing equipment for the use of renewable energy – the first time this is being done in agriculture – such as photovoltaic systems which are expected to reduce the cost of production.
Furthermore, €7m will go towards improving the quality of products by improving the welfare of goats and sheep and another €3m for completing a 2007-2013 rural development programme for breeding.
“For the product to be called halloumi, the goats and sheep’s milk, or a combination, needs to be more than the amount of cow milk. Due to the circumstances on our island however, with coordinated efforts, we have received a 10 year adjustment period from the European Commission,” Kouyialis said.
Efforts to increase the amount of goat and sheep’s milk in the industry include providing €3m per year to farmers in the form of subsidies provided they make good use of the animals’ productivity and give the milk to the industry for processing or do so themselves.
Farmers who assist in covering the costs of registering halloumi as a PDO will receive an annual amount of €3,000 for five years and new farmers will receive €20,000.
Rural development programmes are expected to contribute approximately €25m to the overall budget however taking on board participation from private parties, Kouyialis said the amount would exceed €45m.
“Bearing in mind that halloumi is the main product we export, registering it as a PDO strengthens our rural economy and the economy of the country as a whole,” he added.
Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the European Union Kornelios Korneliou, speaking to CyBC said this is an “important development because it is a step in years of efforts to secure our national product and with this effort it is not just Greek Cypriot producers that are winners but Turkish Cypriot producers too.”
Korneliou said it is expected that countries would appeal the application though he did not specify which ones. They had three months to do so in which case Cyprus would have a further two months to provide a response. The whole process would take about a year he said.
The climate in Brussels is positive while the application has the support of the European Commission and its president Jean Claude Junker who exerted efforts to resolve the issue between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in his visit to Cyprus earlier in July, Korneliou added.
Domestically however, the Pancyprian Organisation of Cattle Farmers (POCF) general manager Nicos Papakyriakou told the Cyprus Mail the decision to include the word ‘hellim’ was a “criminal mistake that would give Turkish Cypriot producers the upper hand”.
This is because Greek Cypriot producers face a shortage in sheep and goats milk “and even though it is only 20 per cent of the industry it is not enough. We only have the availability for about four months,” Papakyriakou said while Turkish Cypriots do not face such shortages.
“This application is destructive. The minister will go home in two years but we will still be here and the damage to our industry will be forever.”
Although Turkish Cypriots produce hellim, Papakyriakou said they are small quantities that are mainly exported to the Middle East and the fact that they would be allowed to use the same ports as Greek Cypriots makes matters even worse.
Hellim production in the occupied territories is about 25 per cent of their exports.
The Association of Cyprus Cheesemakers on the other hand hailed the move as a success. “It is a really a very important step,” leader Giorgos Petrou told CyBC.
“If we do not manage to increase the sheep and goats milk production and more specifically triple it then maybe this will not be a success.”